2007 Pitcher Projections

A couple weeks ago we looked at the projections for 10 hitters. Today we turn our attention to the other side of the equation: pitching. We’ll look at the projections for 10 hurlers, a mix of starters and relievers, young and old, and good and bad.

A Reminder of the Contenders

To remind you we look at each player through the periscope of three different projection systems: PECOTA, CHONE and Marcel the Monkey.

We saw for hitters that PECOTA performed the best in 2006 with an R of 0.74. Does it remain top of the tree for pitching?

System      R score
ZiPS        0.459
PECOTA      0.451
Bill James  0.445
Marcel      0.432
CHONE       0.424
Shandler    0.423

No. It is actually second, behind Dan Syzmborski’s ZiPS, but comes top out of the three systems we are looking at. Marcel does well and beats the CHONE projections—Sean Smith has no doubt been working hard to rectify that for 2007! One thing that definitely jumps out is that the R is much lower for pitching than it is for hitting. This is because there is much greater variance in pitching than in hitting (or at least in the statistics that are used to measure projection accuracy), which translates into more forecast uncertainty.

On a positive note at least it should mean that there is more distinction between the various projections when we analyze our chosen hurlers.

Okay, let’s halt the pleasantries and get to the business end of things.

1. Roger “Rocket” Clemens

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     128   3.15   118   39    12    0.276   8.4    2.8     0.85   3.0
CHONE 2.1  171   3.49   133   52    15    0.290   7.0    2.7     0.79   2.6
Marcel     138   3.10   116   46    11            7.6    3.0     0.72   2.5
AVERAGE    146   3.25   122   46    13    0.283   7.6    2.8     0.78   2.7

The Rocket is nothing short of phenomenal. He is entering his age-44 season and his ERA is projected to hover around 3.30. And he hasn’t even decided if he is going to throw this year! The big variance is around the number of innings he is expected to pitch. Both PECOTA and Marcel are at the 130-140 mark, while CHONE is a lot more optimistic and projects another eight or so starts. All three could be on the high side if Clemens chooses to come back mid-year, as he did in 2006—when he pitched only 113 innings—though in each the three previous years he broke the 200-inning barrier. Indications are that he may come back a little earlier than he did last year but not by much.

All three projections are conservative compared to career norms on BB/9, K/9 and HR/9, presumably attaching more risk to his age. To put the 2007 projections into perspective the last time Clemens had a K/9 rate so low was 1985. He has also been extra stingy with the long ball recently with a HR/9 rate of 0.55 since 2004, and that includes pitching in homer-happy Minute Maid Park. Moreover, his FIP for each of the last three years has been below 3.10—below his lowest 2007 ERA projection. Given that the WBC isn’t a barrier to him returning as late as he did last year look for Clemens to pick up the baton in late May, hurl 150 innings and comfortably exceed all projections.

2. Tim Hudson

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     192   4.21   121   61    18    0.302   5.7    2.9     0.84   2.0
CHONE 2.1  197   4.19   126   65    18    0.306   5.8    3.0     0.82   1.9
Marcel     188   4.40   120   66    20            5.7    3.2     0.96   1.8
AVERAGE    192   4.27   122   64    19    0.304   5.7    3.0     0.87   1.9

It is fair to say that Hudson has been disappointing since his move to Atlanta. Although he did okay in his first season (2005) recording a 3.53 ERA, last year it ballooned to a rather charitable 4.86. The reason for the spike in 2006 was largely down to a rise in home run rate (HR/9 was 1.03) and BABIP (0.294). All forecasts see Hudson’s peripherals moving closer to their long term mean, with HR/9 falling by up to 20%. For a maturing hurler, like Huddy, there is not surprisingly reasonable agreement on his ERA, which is projected to float around the 4.30 mark. If this ends up being Hudson’s final 2007 number then he’ll barely register as an above average pitcher yet still collect a cool $14 million for his troubles. At least he has a reasonable record of staying healthy so should eat his fair share on innings, which has some value at least. Hudson has never been the same pitcher since he pulled his left oblique muscle during his Oakland stint in 2005. If the Braves are to contend in the NL East this year they need to hope that there is significant upside in these numbers.

3. Felix Hernandez

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     144   3.64   128   54    11    0.304   8.0    3.3     0.66   2.4
CHONE 2.1  177   3.34   174   65    16    0.298   8.8    3.3     0.81   2.7
Marcel     164   3.95   150   50    18            8.2    2.7     0.99   3.0
AVERAGE    162   3.64   151   56    15    0.301   8.4    3.1     0.83   2.7

King Felix was supposed to be the pinup boy for phenoms last year but it didn’t quite work out as planned as a 4.40 ERA attests. Despite the lofty ERA there was nothing wrong with his peripherals of 8.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. His higher than expected ERA was somewhat magnified by a tendency to give up the longball in what is a pitcher friendly environment and also because his BABIP of .313 was higher than anticipated. King Fleix was always struggling after a poor start that yielded 11 round-trippers by the end of May with an accompanying ERA north of 5.50. Analysis of his month-by-month numbers shows that he improved his performance after that horrid start but certainly nowhere close to the Cy Young-winning-staff-ace hype that the Mariner media machine had been pedaling.

Month      IP      ERA     K/9     BB/9    HR/9    K/BB    BABIP
April/Mar. 26.2    5.06    1.7     4.1     9.6     2.3     0.351
May        35.2    6.31    1.5     2.8     8.9     3.2     0.34
June       34.2    3.38    0.8     1.6     7.6     4.8     0.304
July       26.1    3.42    1.0     4.5     7.2     1.6     0.250
August     37.1    4.34    0.2     3.4     7.5     2.2     0.310
Sept./Oct. 30.1    4.45    1.5     1.2     9.6     8.0     0.317

So, what about 2007? Well, first off there is unanimity in that all the projections reckon he’ll have a damn fine season with an average ERA of 3.60, supported by a markedly improved BABIP of around .300. If he hurls 200 innings then that means he will register four wins above replacement. Interestingly all forecasts agree that his control will deteriorate slightly but that he’ll be less profligate with the home run. The good news for the Mariners is that King Felix apparently showed up at Safeco looking like a proverbial whippet, weighing a lean 230 pounds. That is a significant improvement to the 250 pounds he tipped the scales at last year and may indicate a renewed tenacity on his behalf to fulfil his potential rather than lollygag along. Expect his sophomore year to be a significant improvement on his freshman one: He could well be a Cy Young contender.

4. Daisuke Matsuzaka

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     182   4.01   162   51    19    0.310   8.0    2.5     0.94   3.2
CHONE 2.1  187   3.28   172   49    15    0.301   8.3    2.4     0.72   3.5
AVERAGE    123   2.43   111   33    11    0.305   8.1    2.4     0.83   3.3

Dice-K, D-Mat, K-Mat … pick a sobriquet, any sobriquet. Matsuzaka is easily the most talked about hurler this offseason. The Johan Santana of Japan, Dice-K is expected to hop across the ocean and dominate in a similar manner. Given the uncertainty about the translation between the Japanese and American league stats it isn’t surprising we get a range on the projections. PECOTA is decidedly more bearish than CHONE is (since there is no data Marcel plumps for league average so I have ignored it) although a glance at peripherals reveals remarkable similarities across the forecast line. The Hardball Times’ Jeff Sackman acquiesces with CHONE but with caveats, and that’s the point, know one really knows what to expect. The facts are simple: Dice-K is probably one of the top pitchers in baseball but has never pitched at the Major League Level before; he has a great fastball, a plus slider and a couple of other out pitches in his repertoire, including the famed Gyroball if you believe what you read. However, he is also throwing in the offense crazy AL East and in a park that doesn’t exactly favor pitchers.

Look for his peripherals to be on the money but for his ERA to probably be closer to PECOTA’s 4.00 than CHONE’s 3.20.

5. J.J. Putz

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     64    3.23   67    19    6     0.308   9.5    2.7     0.87   3.5
CHONE 2.1  71    2.84   82    19    7     0.296   10.4   2.4     0.89   4.3
Marcel     70    3.66   66    21    7             8.5    2.7     0.90   3.1
AVERAGE    68    3.24   72    20    7     0.302   9.5    2.6     0.89   3.6

There is no question that Putz had a career year in 2006 as he established firmly himself as the Mariners’ closer posting an ERA of 2.30 along with a K/BB of 8.00 and, in the process, secured a trunk full of juicy lucre in the form of a $13m three year extension. Initially I wasn’t sure what caused the transformation in Putz’s numbers but THT Matthew Carruth reliably informed me that it was because he added a splitter to his repetoire that he picked up from Eddie Guardado. This is what Matthew said to me in a recent e-mail exchange:

If you look back at 2004-5 tape, Putz was basically a fastball (a legit plus pitch though) only guy with a show-me change and a show-me slurve. But what he did in 2006 was basically show up with a new plus pitch, that splitter and it perfectly accented his fastball. Suddenly hitters couldn’t tell if what he was throwing was going to stay straight or drop 2 feet out of the zone. And he could control the splitter too, throwing it high and dropping into the zone for a called strike.

Matthew then showed me some data that showed Putz’s swinging strike percentage lept from 8.6% in 2005 to 15.0% in 2006. The ability to miss bats is a measure of a pitcher’s stuff so it seems suggest that Putz has indeed found a new performance level.

What do our projections think? Not unexpectedly all expect a regression, though to what extent no one can agree. Marcel, which is the most harsh, expects Putz’s ERA to drop by a staggering 1.30. Granted he is a late bloomer (2007 is his age-30 season), but that number would suggest all of last season’s gain was a fluke. Also Putz may not descend the typical aging curve as he has thrown so few innings—this short track record is another reason why Marcel is more bearish. CHONE sees some fallback but still expects Putz to be a star reliever, while PECOTA splits the difference between the two. The difference between PECOTA and CHONE is largely down to PECOTA projecting a lower BABIP and factoring more regression on his K/BB (3.6 for PECOTA vs 4.3 for CHONE).

Either way no-one expects deja-vu in 2007.

6. B. J. Ryan

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     65    2.50   83    21    5     0.297   11.5   2.9     0.71   3.9
CHONE 2.1  74    2.82   89    24    7     0.292   10.8   2.9     0.85   3.7
Marcel     68    3.04   74    24    5             9.8    3.2     0.66   3.1
AVERAGE    69    2.79   82    23    6     0.294   10.7   3.0     0.75   3.5

Why anyone would want to be known as B J is beyond me, but that is a subject of another article that is unlikely to make it through the stringent THT editing process. Most of baseball cringed when B J signed his $55M five year deal with the Blue Jays last season. Roll forward one year with another good season under the belt (ERA 1.37, K/BB 4.3) and silly money being thrown to every replacement level free-agent and suddenly the media are cooing that he looks like a bargain. So, what does 2007 have in store? Another cracking year, that’s what. No one expects him to replicate a sub 2.00 ERA—in fact the consensus is 2.75, with PECOTA being the most optimistic at 2.50, but face it, that is pretty darn good.

One thing that Ryan does exceptionally well is not concede home runs. His HR/9 rate has been 0.38 since 2002 and 0.63 over his career. The projections can’t handle such an anaemic longball rate and all forecast him to exceed his career average. Marcel and PECOTA reckon B J will miss his career numbers by a slither but CHONE expects a 0.20 deterioration in home run rate. If any of these were to come true Ryan would be watching more round-trippers than at any point since 2002. Although HR/9 isn’t the most repeatable skill, Ryan has consistently shown himself to be a frugal hurler. Even if he hits his PECOTA numbers it will be a disappointing season in relation to the recent past.

7. Brad Lidge

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     65    3.17   81    27    7     0.290   11.2   3.7     0.93   3.1
CHONE 2.1  77    2.81   106   30    8     0.294   12.4   3.5     0.94   3.5
Marcel     70    4.05   84    28    8             10.8   3.6     1.03   3.0
AVERAGE    71    3.34   90    28    8     0.292   11.5   3.6     0.96   3.2

Lidge is the last of our trio of relievers and his 2006 was the worst of the bunch. He was hit to all ends of the yard and finished with a below average ERA of 5.28—for a reliever that is replacement level performance. How the ‘stros wished they had traded him after Pujols battered him to all ends of the yard in the 2005 playoffs. Let’s not forget that Lidge is still an All-Star reliever who throws 95+mph gas with a plus change up— as his BABIP was an unkindly .317 I’d imagine we’ll see some bounce in 2007. Do our projections agree? Well, they all agree that he’ll improve to some extent though if he went south it would be time to fetch the men in white coats.

Given his anomalous 2006 it isn’t a huge surprise that there is little consensus about his likely 2007 performance. At one end of the spectrum, Marcel places a lot of weight on his last year so projects a 4.00+ ERA, while CHONE believe he’ll return close to All-Star perfection with a sub-3.00 performance. The good news for the Killer Bees is that there is unanimity that he’ll record strikes by the bushel. Choosing between a K/9 of 11 or 12 is like deciding whether you’d prefer to meet Angelina Jolie or the Dallas Cowboys’ Cheer Leader Team. With stuff like that he’ll has the capability to dominate again. Look for him to do just that and put 2006 down to ill luck.

8. Ben Sheets

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     178   3.36   170   30    22    0.283   8.6    1.5     1.09   5.7
CHONE 2.1  155   3.01   167   27    16    0.303   9.7    1.6     0.93   6.2
Marcel     129   3.63   125   25    14            8.7    1.7     0.98   5.0
AVERAGE    154   3.33   154   27    17    0.293   9.0    1.6     1.00   5.6

With Jeff Sackman writing that Sheets is the best hurler in all of baseball there isn’t too much to say on his projections. The debate centers more on how many innings he’ll throw rather than on how well he’ll pitch them. Marcel and CHONE hedge their bets and expect only half a season of production while PECOTA expects Sheets to be a little more prolific and start 28 games. Everyone thinks that Sheets will pitch well with a consensus ERA forecast of 3.33 with a K/9 of 9.0 and a BB/9 of 1.6.

As Jeff points out in his article Sheets was unlucky last year. While his ERA ended the year at 3.82, his FIP was 2.48. If he can replicate that performance in 2007 he’ll blow all his projections out of the water and firmly re-establish himself as the staff ace. Even if Sheets only throws for two-thirds of the season the Brew Crew have him signed up to a great deal—his 2007 pay is a mere $10m. Ben Sheets is entering his peak years—2007 will be his age-28 season. It is time Sheets to prove Sackman right and show how awesome he really is.

9. Carlos Zambrano

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     215   3.79   210   92    22    0.278   8.8    3.9     0.92   2.3
CHONE 2.1  205   3.45   199   91    19    0.285   8.7    4.0     0.83   2.2
Marcel     189   3.48   176   84    18            8.4    4.0     0.86   2.1
AVERAGE    203   3.57   195   89    20    0.282   8.6    3.9     0.87   2.2

Zambrano recently slapped in a hefty $15m arbitration claim for his free-agent year. God only knows what sort of money he expects the next off-season but all of a sudden the Oswalt deal is look like a steal for the Astros.

Zambrano is a typical power pitcher in that he can mow down opposing batsmen like a pro but is susceptible to yielding a ton of walks. In fact his career K/BB is a rather dour 1.93. Saying that, he has managed to keep his career ERA to a lowly 3.29 and he has not had a full season in the bigs where his ERA has been north of 4.00. Also he has so far proven to be an extremely robust hurler eating more innings that Bob Wickman would pies—over the last four seasons he has exceeded the 200 mark in each. Perhaps he is worth close to $15m after all.

Oh, and we should also mention his batting too. In 2006 he cleared the fences an astonishing 6 times in only 73 at-bats—a Bondsian performance. Again, the pitching projections are remarkably consistent with a consensus 3.50 ERA and a K/BB of 2.20. Given that he is still moving up the age curve and is entering his free agent year (not that that has been proven to mean anything) the ERA feels a little on the high side. With Wood and Prior over the last couple of years being far too injury prone, Zambrano is now the putative ace on the Cubs roster. Look for him to confirm that this year.

10. Johan Santana

           IP    ERA    K     BB    HR    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     218   3.00   218   50    25    0.279   9.0    2.1     1.02   4.3
CHONE 2.1  212   2.51   232   42    23    0.262   9.8    1.8     0.98   5.5
Marcel     200   3.06   205   46    21            9.2    2.1     0.95   4.5
AVERAGE    210   2.86   218   46    23    0.270   9.3    2.0     0.98   4.7

No pitching analysis is complete without looking at the most dominant pitcher of his age. Johan Santana fulfills that mantle, having won two out of the last three Cy Young awards, and it was larceny that he didn’t complete the hatrick. Santana is only 27 and his career stats speak from themselves: ERA 3.20, K/9 of 9.46, BB/9 of 2.67 and HR/9 of 0.91 for a win percentage of .719. Yikes, that is in the super-tough AL Central and he hasn’t even hit his peak yet. Also he has showed a remarkable tendency to stay healthy—it seems like the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl appearances were more recent than Santana’s last trip to the DL!

As such, all the projections expect him to exceed the 200 innings mark in 2007 and produce yet another Cy Young calibre performance. CHONE has the most aggressive forecast with a 2.50 ERA and K/BB of over 5.5, which would best his 2004 season high of 5.2. PECOTA and Marcel and more a little more conservative and expect an ERA of 3.00 and a K/BB between 4.3 and 4.5. One reason for Santana’s success has been his ultra low BABIP: it has been an emaciated .278 over his career and .271 last year. CHONE expects him to beat his 2006 number by 10 points while PECOTA is sensibly plumping for his career average.

In sum, I think Santana will likely have another sub-3.00 ERA season and as he enters his age-28 season his peripherals, if anything should improve. The CHONE forecasts (possibly with BABIP a shade higher) look to be closest to the money.

Closing Thoughts

Let’s repeat the exercise that we did for the hitting projections and see whether the forecasts we are using have a high/low bias in them:

           Optimistic Pessimistic
PECOTA     6          3
CHONE      2          1
Marcel     2          6

Do you see a pattern?

Based on our tiny sample of 10 it appears that PECOTA once again plays at the extremes, as it did for hitters. One caveat though: The sample is a little biased because on the whole we are looking a very good hurlers. Marcel probably comes out the most conservative as the primary dimension of its forecasts is regression, especially where data points are limited, or players have spent time on the disabled list.

That concludes out mini round-up of hitters and hurlers. All that remains is to get the show on the road and put all this conjecture behind us.

References & Resources
Projections take a lot of time to come together and there are really too many people to acknowledge. Obviously the principal protagonists are most important: Baseball Prospectus, Sean Smith and Tangotiger. Baseball Reference, as always, remains an invaluable reference tool for this type of article. All projections are taken from the mid-January releases of projections and they may have changed since original publication. Also thanks to Matthew Carruth for his pointers on the Putz write-up … I think Matthew intends to revisit this topic in a future article so keep an eye out for that.

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